I discovered the (poor) state of the academic job market a few weeks after I started my PhD. A bit late, in other words. I had heard about the pressure to publish books and journal articles but I imagined that these were future worries. Far future worries. Learning the truth scared me but after a brief moment of self-doubt, I resolved to meet the new standards against which my generation of budding academics would be measured. In the same week, I came across a call for papers issued by a prestigious journal in my field; a special issue on just the topic I was working on. And so I set about turning a course assignment (graded ‘A’ so obviously not that bad) into a potential journal article. It seemed like a relatively simple proposition. Though I knew how stringent this journal’s standards were and I struggled with bouts of imposter syndrome I had come this far. I was in a PhD program so I must have some ability to express myself clearly and persuasively.
I wrote something fairly good (which was rejected in the end) but what I struggled with most, what I continue to wrestle with even as I write this post, is the fear of what would happen if my work was published. What if I discovered a glaring grammatical error? What if I’d repeatedly misspelled the name of a superstar scholar both in the body of the article and in the reference list? Most scary of all, what if I changed my mind?
This published work would shape strangers’ idea of me, my work, my values, my identity. I would be measured (I’m always being measured) by words I wrote at one random stage of my life. Despite the fact that I spent nearly a year reading, revising and rewriting this article, it still did not feel like an accurate reflection of me. I experience these same doubts over tweets, blogposts and even the occasional comment on a student’s essay. The desire to be perfectly represented keeps my tweet count low and my marker’s commentary short. It’s the reason it took me seven months to finally create my blog and a year to publish my first post. It’s the reason this particular musing will likely never see the light of day. I know my words can never finish my story but this knowledge doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for perfect authenticity.
I will keep trying. (To be perfect? Or to hit ‘publish’ regardless? Who knows, who knows…)